Reflux Laryngitis

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Reflux laryngitis facts

  • Reflux laryngitis is inflammation of the voice box (larynx) caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus.
  • Reflux laryngitis can cause chronic hoarseness and be associated with other symptoms of inflammation of the esophagus, such as heartburn.
  • Medical treatments for reflux esophagitis include medications (acid blockers or proton pump inhibitors), or surgery.
  • Behavioral modifications such as weight loss, quitting smoking, and proper food choices can decrease symptoms of reflux laryngitis.

Why does reflux laryngitis occur?

Reflux is caused by weakness in the muscle at the junction of the esophagus with the stomach. Normally, this muscular valve, or sphincter, functions to keep food and stomach acid from moving upward from the stomach to the esophagus and larynx. This valve opens to allow food into the stomach and closes to keep the stomach's contents from coming back up. The backward movement of stomach contents (gastric contents) up into the esophagus is called gastroesophageal reflux.

Additionally, any increase in abdominal pressure (such as obesity or tight clothing), which can push acid back from the stomach up the esophagus, or a  patient with a hiatal hernia, will have an increased risk for reflux. When it causes symptoms, it is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD). When the acid backs up into the voice box (larynx), the condition is referred to as reflux laryngitis.

Stomach acid can cause irritation of the lining of the esophagus, larynx, and throat. This can lead to:

  • erosion of the lining of the esophagus (erosive esophagitis),
  • narrowing of the esophagus (stricture),
  • chronic hoarseness,
  • chronic throat clearing,
  • difficulty swallowing,
  • foreign body sensation in the throat,
  • asthma or cough,
  • spasms of the vocal cords,
  • sinusitis, and
  • growths on the vocal cords (granulomas).

Rarely, reflux can lead to cancers of the esophagus or larynx.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/14/2015

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